|By Jon Shende||
|September 10, 2012 07:00 AM EDT||
As cloud computing technologies and offerings mature and evolve in its services to customers, one common consumer use will be that of the Software as a Service (SaaS) model.
My earlier articles have touched on the various models, risks, security and forensics at several levels. There is also a plethora of resources available now that end users can educate themselves with that are freely available online.
This article will focus on aspects of security that impact the SaaS environment as developed, presented or augmented by me for several Cloud Computing projects.
Before we proceed in the subject matter, a brief clarification of what I refer to as the cloud follows. Keep in mind that this term "cloud computing" is now being used to describe a broad range of services to include product descriptors that sits outside the common definition of the cloud.
For ease of reference I will refer to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)  definition of which the following is a part. "Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction."
Over the years since the concept of Cloud Computing evolved we have seen an accepted concept of the "Cloud Computing Stack", with its three distinct categories: Software as a Service, Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service; where the IaaS Is the platform upon which PaaS rests and which is turn has SaaS rests moving up from IaaS to SaaS.
It is important to keep this basic stack in mind as the building blocks of the Cloud Computing system and not get distracted by all the "as a Service" spring up across markets as we proceed with this article.
As we move more and more services into the Cloud ecosystem, there will always be concerns regarding security. However a prescriptive combination of both preventive and detective controls at those data centers housing the IaaS ecosystem is on the path to security compliance and event mitigation. These controls, as a step toward better cloud computing security should be assessed and assured to meet industry tested security controls, as well as regulatory and policy requirements. The same format can be modified and applied up the stack to the PaaS segment.
However it is at the SaaS layer that we can perceive additional challenges with cloud security. One critical area of concern stems from the potential risk that a client's data can be exposed to as it is stored within the storage system of its SaaS provider. This risk can potentially increase in the event of the SaaS provider in turn utilizing the services of a third party IaaS provider.
While effective data center security controls are good for inside a data center, web-services or applications outside this area are a growing target for application layer type attacks. This can lead to the loss of critical to sensitive customer data as well as intellectual property and other corporate data.
A challenge for the IT security professional here is how to implement a level of protection that meets IT Security control requirements as well as ensures compliance with information security regulations, E.g. PCI-DSS in the case of transactions via web services.
In both the traditional environments and cloud services infrastructure environments, we have firewalls tweaked and configured with rulebase automation as a best practice. However in the dynamic cloud environment I believe that having to manage firewall signatures for example, amongst other issues could be challenging and counter-productive.
Essentially we would need to implement security in a layered approach which should include the network, servers, databases and coding, augmented by a system that should have a defined security process based on the SaaS environment and its functionality. This should be an additive measure to augment other monitoring and logging systems deployed to secure this environment.
This system should also have the ability to implement tools that will be able to dynamically learn the behavior of an application supported by an automated mechanism, thus removing the need for signatures in the case of firewall systems as mentioned earlier.
Within the SaaS environment we need to ensure adequate security in input validation by SaaS end users, effective user authentication and authorization, proper data segregation with security encapsulation for data in motion using SSL (3.0 or above) or TLS (1.0 above), effective software patching policies and procedures by the SaaS provider working with its software vendors as well as a key generation strategy.
(While SSL/TLS is encryption for data in motion between a Web Server and a browser is a good practice, administrators should disable weak algorithms and ciphers residing on the Web Server).
There must also be assurance for uptime or availability that is formalized in a Service Level Agreement (SLA). Impact on environments supporting the SaaS ecosystem can be attacks impacting Network Security as well as the process for Backup and Recovery.
Researchers Bhadauria and Sanyal  stated "Two types of servers are used by SaaS: the Main Consistence Server (MCS) and Domain Consistence Server (DCS). Cache coherence is achieved by the cooperation between MCS and DCS. In SaaS, if the MCS is damaged, or compromised, the control over the cloud environment is lost. Hence securing the MCS is of great importance."
Moving away a bit from the technology of security in this environment, Cloud Computing and SaaS on a whole was in its infancy and in some circles denounced as a viable IT service (no names called here, but a tech company leader specializing in databases and now cloud products comes to mind).
In terms of regulations that impact web services and by extension SaaS, we can reference the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)  passed in 1999, Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) in 2002 , and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule and Security Rule of 2003. All three of these regulations, although important in their relative environments (e.g. Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Intellectual Property systems (IPS) and Human Resources Systems), were not crafted to include elements of a SaaS environment then.
As a result there needs to be finite and focused addendums or improvement to these acts as was in the case of SAS 70 to SSAE 16 to meet this technological evolution.
Of importance is that, despite the security measures and attestations provided by a SaaS provider to assure a client of their security controls or compensating controls and compliance processes in place to meet regulatory and security standards; it is still the responsibility of a data owner to maintain industry regulated requirements to comply with confidentiality, integrity, non-repudiation and security control over sensitive to critical information.
So the challenge here is to ensure that a cloud client requirement (Security Policy, Strategy, Data Provenance, Operational and End-User Security) is part of the discussion with the cloud provider and most if not all requirements mirror.
The designation of data classification is part of another topic and should be the influenced by the result of risk impact and gap analysis.
As a closing point the value of vulnerability assessments and penetration tests within the SaaS environment is an important tool for an independent set of eyes to present information that a potential attacker will find and use against the SaaS. This is not only related to technology as is well known due to the rise of social engineering.
 A Survey on Security Issues in Cloud Computing www.ijcaonline.org › Archives › Volume 47 › Number 18, Rohit Bhadauria; Sugata Sanyal, 2012
 Jesse James Garrett (18 February 2005). "Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications". AdaptivePath.com.
Dale Kim is the Director of Industry Solutions at MapR. His background includes a variety of technical and management roles at information technology companies. While his experience includes work with relational databases, much of his career pertains to non-relational data in the areas of search, content management, and NoSQL, and includes senior roles in technical marketing, sales engineering, and support engineering. Dale holds an MBA from Santa Clara University, and a BA in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley.
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